Blog Archive

Monday, October 24, 2016

9. Health

On my list what is happiness number 9 is health. And it seems quite obvious that health is important for a happy life. But what exactly does health actually mean?

fresh herbs are known to be really healthy

Now in our daily life we know that "healthy" is the opposite of "sick" and we think that there is a very clear understanding of both of these words. But actually there isn't. First of all there is different kinds of health. For example we can distinguish physical and mental health. Or we can say, someone is in a healthy relationship or food can be considered healthy. But even aside from these types of health, if we only look into one category and ask if there is a list of criteria for health, we will be surprised to find out that there is no universal list. There are official catalogues for illness and diagnosis but they change and outdate all the time and are also sometimes really questionable, because they are a product of our society and of what we consider "normal".

For example one diagnosis could be Trisomy 21, because doctors in our current society consider it a defect of someones genes. But the picture about this phenomenon is actually changing with more and more parents of children with downsyndrom opening up about how happy they are with their child and how they don't understand why anyone would see something wrong in them. Maybe a person with trisomy 21 is actually healthy, but our society is actually not. Maybe one day human kind will learn to be open and tolerant and consider downsyndrom just a different variety of health.

Now with downsyndrom doctors can at least point to the genes, but with some mental health questions, the diagnosis becomes even more blurry. I have met incredibly smart children in my life that were diagnosed with hyperactivity (also known as ADHD) and sometimes even given drugs (neuro-stimulants very much like cocaine and speed). Now I was helping these children with their homework and studying for school and I knew them before and after the diagnosis and they mostly didn't have any problems focusing on a certain topic nor where they somehow noticeable in their social behavior. But what they all had in common where actually very scared parents who made the impression of doing anything in order to fit in, and very obsessive teachers that were often also racist (most of my students were children of migrant families). As I am not a psychologist of course I don't hold the tools in my hand to say weather any of them actually needed to be medicated. But I sure am a philosopher and capable of doubting. I wouldn't give my children hard drugs that alter their brain in a case where they are just behaving frustrated in a classroom with a racist teacher in a system that sees value only in usable humans.

On the other side some illness is so unnoticeable, that we only see it when it is already too late. I have lost some people in my life because they suffered from depression. Depression can have many symptoms and it can also be totally invisible to everyone including the person having it herself. So do other mental illnesses like eating disorders or even psychopathy.

Now of course it is always important to be educated about all the things that could be dangerous to your health and take good care of yourself. But even that can go wrong quickly. Especially if you have a tendency to self-diagnose your own symptoms by searching them with google. I am a little bit hypochondriac myself and tend to get scared of dying when I have a stomach ache or a mild concussion (that can be dangerous though, but still it wasn't worth the panic I had in my bed).

So anyway the good way to go is probably somewhere between those two extremes. Be careful of listening to your own body and mind signals. But don't get too scared and overly protective and still know that every few years a good flu or a broken bone can actually remind you how beautiful life is without pain and 100% of your energy. And one thing is for sure: No body lives forever.

But how do we actually take good care of our health? How do we prevent getting sick? Well some things are very damn sure:
  • We need sleep. And we need enough of it.
  • We need to move. Check out my blog entry for 7. Exercise
  • We need to eat in a healthy way, in order to nourish ourselves with 2. Good food
  • We need to live a relatively happy life with people & occupations we like
  • We need to stay sober (at least most of the time)
Why do we need to stay sober? Well addiction mostly leads to health problems. Alcohol is found to be highly carcinogenic, as are cigarettes. They also both lead to other health problems, if you want to inform yourself, just research it a little bit and you will think twice about consuming them regularly. Most of the other drugs have severe side effects as well. Cocaine for example can lead to many many health problems like depression, problems with the brain receptors, flu-like syndrome, heart problems and death. The problem with addiction is also that it is mostly a symptom of another problem. There was this really interesting experiment with rats and cocaine abuse:

So if we are addicted to something it can actually also just be a signal for us that something else is wrong. Maybe we feel lonely and isolated or unhappy or traumatized. It is important to get to the source of the problem in order to work on it and live a healthy life.

There is a lot more to say about health, but I wanted to make clear, that there is a strong connection between health and happiness and that it is not always very obvious, what health actually is.

Friday, August 12, 2016

8. Freedom


This Blog is part of my List of things that are neccessary for happiness

my boyfriend having a talk with one of his hostel guests

A certain kind of freedom is becoming rare. It is important to remind yourself from time to time that you actually have a choice in some situations, and only because one of the choices seems so obvious and so given, it is worth to reflect about alternatives and to look in which directions you actually have the space to move. 
For example if you are thinking what to study after graduation. Since I come from a relatively privileged high school, where most of the kids where children of doctors, laywers and diplomats, they saw their own choice in this narrow window of academical paths. One of my friends classmate's answer when asked what she wanted to become when she grew up was: a shepherd. 
People where asking, a shepherd? They thought she was being rebellious and a troublemaker. People where laughing, thinking she was making jokes. People kept laughing and shaking their heads. But now I met her again. She owns a little piece of land and some goats and sheep and is making her own cheese. Different types of cheese actually. And people are paying a lot for it. It is very tasty and cremy and I am ordering at least for 15€ every two weeks. 

one of the specialties that my shepherd friend is making
Now what has this cheese to do with freedom? Well, that person was keeping a certain freedom in her perspective. She kept the view for her own life wide open to all kinds of possibilities. She didn't let them be narrowed by the prospects that others around her had for her. 

This is a very important lesson for us to learn in order to understand what freedom actually means. Of course this is just one case and it happens to take place in a western world of comfort and privilege where people usually don't feel so unfree (or maybe don't see how unfree they actually are). 
We can imagine more extreme situations of choices where for example a young woman is considered to be only honorable if she is married to a man, who has a job and can reproduce with her and also keep the children alive. 
I've met women who where born into a world where the window of perspectives for them was narrowed down to this: Being someone's wife. They often grew up helping their moms with the cooking and washing (washing clothes for the whole family by hand) and housekeeping. They saw their brothers going outside to the beach to play or to learn how to ride a bike, while they themselves had to stay at home and only socialize with other girls or women in their own house. They grew up seeing their mothers being a house slave to the husband and the sons. They saw all the other girls around them doing the same thing. They were told that a woman walking around in shorts and going to the beach has no respect for herself and is going to be a prostitute. Because these where the only 2 options in that window of perspectives for women: Either a prostitute who can earn money and feed herself, but who will never find a husband and will never be respected by society, or a wife who is tied to the will of a husband who is her master. 

To me both choices sound horrible. And I feel very sorry for the women who are only given these two options by their families. I know that these situations are limited and certainly less free than the situation of my shepherd friend, but sometimes the problem doesn't only lie in the outer forced limits set by families and laws. Sometimes the problem can lie in the lack of knowledge of the individual herself. If the young woman who is about to be married only knew that there could also be other possible options, she would maybe emancipate herself from the oppressive situation. But without knowledge of the whole span of possibilities there is no impulse for a free decision. 

That is why freedom comes with education and with the ability to see what is possible. There are many projects that work on exactly this problem. It is always hard to open the minds of people who live in societies that have very narrow views on how to live a good life. But with tender education it is possible to even make the families of these women understand that the life as a free educated and self empowered woman doesn't have to be a dishonorable one. 

This TED-Talk is held by a young woman who was brave enough to open the window of possibilities for herself to a wider one where she could make a free choice.
There is also an interesting movie called "Mustang". It is about the freedom of five sisters taken away by their conservative oncle and how they try to break free.

As we can also see in the movie freedom starts with the choice. All kind of passivity and purely bearing a situation that is miserable isn't enough. Freedom can be painful and scary. Freedom can be risky and life threatening, but sometimes the choice of freedom is the way that leads to happiness and that is important to remember whenever you feel trapped in a situation that is miserable and that doesn't seem like the right choice. And in some extreme situations freedom is only possible with help from someone outside. But it is always good to educate yourself about your options and possibilities outside of the main range and to keep your eyes open for new ways to go.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

7. Exercise

Hello again! We are getting closer to the last points on our list "what is happiness"
Point number 7 is exercise.

paris 2014 
With exercise I don't mean: go to a studio and run on the treadmill for an hour. That's just going to make your life dull and boring. No, for me there is a thing that is crucial for happiness that has to do with the reality of my own body and mind. First of all: we have muscles, so we might also just use them. They are awesome and our bodies can do many incredible things. And exercise should be chosen wisely to benefit with your whole being from it. Your whole being also contains a soul and a mind, so you might pick a sport that doesn't only refresh your body with new oxygen and fresh blood, but a kind of exercise that also challenges your mind and dances with your soul.
For me there are many options. My favorite kinds of sports:

Dance - It is so full of soul and mind, because you are making an interpretation of the music that you perceive and translate it directly into body movement without rethinking or judging it. Dancing is one of my favorite ways to move. It makes my soul free and happy, my movements become wild and spontaneous as I translate the feelings I create in tune with the music. Dance is also so good for your body and it motivates you and makes you happy. Just try it at home! Put on your favorite dance music and move. It will make you happier.

Martial Arts - I love kickboxing and also other martial arts. They make me feel powerful and strong and they really challenge the mind as well. The concentration has to be on the highest level in order to perform well at martial arts. If you get deeper into the philosophy of some styles you might as well find your soul deeply satisfied. In Karate for example meditation and deeper understanding of the human are a big part of the sport. They also get you very flexible and train every muscle you didn't even know you had. And you train a good endurance and general fitness.

Snowboarding - All of you who already do snowboarding know, there is no way to describe just how GOOD it makes you feel. It is a deep connection to the mountain and the landscape around you, a big exercise against your own fears and a great lesson in life to learn. It is meditative in the way you move smoothly in big curves through the snow and hear your own breath and the sound of the board swishing through the powdery white heaven. And it is exhausting as hell since you have to make very strong movements on a high speed against physical powers exercising your whole body in a high altitude.

Skateboarding - I haven't quite mastered it yet, but there was a skateboarding workshop for women in Berlin. It's called "suck my trucks" and it is rad. Skateboarding in the bowl or the big half pipe makes me feel like flying, because there is this little moment at the turning top, where you actually are flying and overcoming gravity. It is also super cool and has a lot of street credibility which can be a real boost for the ego.

Yoga - Now in the beginning of my relationship with yoga I didn't see it as a sport and I didn't really appreciate it as much as I do now. It was a journey, because apparently it really depends on the teacher. But when I found a teacher who was really good and into pushing me to try new things and do movements that seemed to be impossible at first, it started being fun and challenging. The biggest plus for me was the body awareness I learned from it and how much my lung volume expanded (which made me perform better at any other kind of sport).

Football - I mean the kind of football you play with your feet. It is probably the sport that will get you as fit as you possibly can be. You will have to do a lot of sprints and fast movements for 90 minutes and you will be motivated to give your best, because you have a whole team that you are trying to make proud. So with football it is really an emotional sport. For me the most emotional that I know. And on the other side it is a great stress reliever. And the team factor is special, it is almost like a relationship to have a football team.

Bouldering - It is the type of climbing that you do without the security rope. It is very challenging for the muscles of your whole body and you will develop a special kind of strength from it. It is also so tough for the mind because you need to be creative in order to succeed. Sometimes pure strength is not enough and you need to do a certain twist or another order of movements to make the next step possible. Also it teaches you fear management, because you will learn that there is the first kind of fear that will just paralyze you and make you sweat, and then there is the kind of fear that brings out super powers and make you look for creative solutions and motivate you to move up. And if you overcome the fears and actually get to the top, you will feel so good.

Surfing - The waves and the sea are already motivation enough to get into the water, but if you can actually use a board to ride waves it is the ultimate fun experience. Like the kind of experience where you become totally wrapped up in an activity that you feel like a child again that can totally forget the hours passing and just keep playing forever. It is also a nice sport because there is usually a great community around surfing. Most of the surfers are sharing a good spirit and being easy to hang out with.

There are so many other exercises and ways to move your body. Every one of them has it's own magic and you better go out and find your calling cause if you don't, you will miss out on a lot of fun and happiness. And exercise really improve so many things. Tonnes of studies show, what we already guessed anyway: Exercise make you much healthier, happier, prettier, smarter, more relaxed and stable. You can only benefit. Even from the injuries (I had quite a few), they usually put your life into a new perspective and you also learn to appreciate your daily health more.


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

6. Nature

Hello people who are striving for happiness ... We are going to take a closer look at nature and how it is connected to happiness.

paradise valley in morocco

First of all: What is nature?
The answer is not as easy as it seems at first. And actually the more you think about it, the less clear it seems. Nature is supposed to be the living environment, that was not formed by human culture. For some things that seems very clear. If you ask for example, is the landscape of Yosemite National Park nature? Yes. Are the Alps in Europe nature? Mostly yes. Are the forests in Germany nature? Hmmmmm. Historically? No. Few of the forests in Germany are actually originally formed by themselves. There used to be big old natural forests, before the Germans started to settle there and create farm land. They cleared most of the old forests. They reshaped most of the old riverbeds and replanted new forests with different kind of trees. They hunted a lot of animals and decreased most of the wild animal population in order to create fields, and to breed farm animals. So most of these relatively new forests and animals (like cows and pigs and chicken) are actually a product of culture. You won't run into a bear or a wolf in these new forests. You won't find a tearing rapid stream in these new riverbeds. It's all tamed.
Still, if we think about what we mean in our daily life with the word "nature", we see that we have lowered our standards a lot. In Berlin, if we seek nature, we go to a park. It's historically incorrect to call these parks and forests in and around Berlin "nature", but the grey concrete around us has made us desperate for some green.

gardens of the world in berlin

I've once read an article about a social study where researchers found out, that the more green areas are accessible to inhabitants of a certain area, the healthier the inhabitants are psychologically. There are other studies that looking at green plants and leaves and flowers reduces stress, calms you down and uplifts your mood. Who needs these studies? We can totally feel that ourselves. Chilling in a garden for a few hours does wonders. Every time that I take a walk in the park I wonder: Why am I not doing this much more? It's so nice!

Nature comes in all colors. Green is the obvious one. But to look at the blue water of the Adriatic Sea in Croatia makes my heart bounce every time. I am totally addicted to that blue blue water. It looks really juicy and tasty and inviting somehow. And seawater is almost a spiritual thing, because it is the material that we are mostly made of and the essence that we came from. Our cells are these little water bubbles with salt and minerals, our tears we cry taste like the sea, the sweat that runs down our bodies reveals what is under our skin. Saltwater. Eating soup makes so much sense in this circle of saltwater.
The sea has a strong healing power. I experienced that many times already in my early childhood. As a baby I used to suffer from neurodermatitis and my mother was bathing me regularly in sea salt baths to heal it. It totally worked. It was gone before I started having a conscious memory. But what I do remember is getting stung by a wasp in summer in Croatia. My mom told me to cool it off in the sea. I walked into the water and when I came out again, there was merely something like a little mosquito bite left. No more pain, no itching. A few years later my brother and me got into climbing the cliffs and rocks next to the sea and we got so bold and jaunty that I slipped into a gap between two rocks with sharp edges leaving a deep cut in my leg. I went to the water with it and within a few days only the white new skin was a like a trace on my brown legs.

The oceans of our planet are a powerful manifestation of nature. Recently going to Morocco a lot made me realize the difference between the gentle crystal and still blue of the Adria and the turbulent, wild and impermeably green waves of the Atlantic Ocean. Hearing the sound of the waves at night matches my breath and it's one of the rare sounds that makes me fall asleep instead of keeping me awake. When I started surfing I was totally clenched by how strong the ocean is. On our first day we had a surf teacher telling us to walk into the waves in a certain way to use the current in our favor. I followed him and thought I was doing something wrong cause I felt it was impossible to walk further without drowning. Over the loud noise of the masses of water falling down the waves I screamed to our teacher that I'm gonna go back out of the water and try again somewhere better. He shook his head and yelled that everywhere else would be much harder. I couldn't believe it but followed him freaking out inside but trying to stay cool on the outside. It was a day of the battle: Me against the waves. I lost in every single move that I tried, feeling my body being a ridiculously small snippet in these huge and powerful waves and currents washing me here and there. I swallowed a lot of water, got my limps and my body pulled and twisted in every direction and was fighting to keep control over this surfboard that was attached to me. It was so much fun! I know it sounds horrible, but it was fun. It kept me busy, I had a goal (to ride one of these stubborn waves) and I was surrounded by the essence of my own being. And in the end of the day I was really tired and felt like every pore of my body was washed so clean and my eyes were still watery from the salt and water still dripping out of my nose when I was already showered and sitting at the dinner table.

Nature means a lot to me personally. And I think it should to everyone. This might be dogmatic but it is the dogma that I grew up with. Our mom was teaching us from early childhood on that the environment is something to be saved because it is the basis that we live on. As children we had little Greenpeace stickers on all of our school notebooks and we knew that it was better to go everywhere by bike and to not buy things that are packed in too much plastic and that some animals and plants would become rare and in the end be extinct species. I'm glad we grew up with this consciousness, because now I am a person who highly appreciates nature and tries to live in a peaceful symbiotic relationship with it, instead of abusing and destroying it.

The happiness-factor of nature is almost inexpressible in words. So I'll just let these videos speak for me:

pure happiness

Sunday, October 4, 2015

5. Friendly and inspiring people

So here we go and take a closer look at point 5 on my list "what is happiness"...

people can have a huge impact
As humans we are social beings. That lies deep in our nature. It makes a big difference who the people are, that surround you. The influence of our family and friends, of the society we grow up in, of the culture that we identify with goes way beyond the obvious and easily perceptible. Of course we can often sense the influence. For example if our mother told us to do a certain thing, we often keep some of the learned behavior for the rest of our lives. In the first year of elementary school my mom walked me to school. We had to turn around a corner that was on a little hill and there she sometimes stopped and told me to turn my face and the palm of my hand to the morning sun to pick up energy. So we stood there for a few minutes, absorbing sunlight with our skin, eyes closed in total silence. I will never forget the feeling of the sunlight actually entering my skin and filling me with energy and joy. Now as an adult I still turn to the sun sometimes and remember these happy moments of early morning sun.
Other influence is less direct. We are not explicitly told what to wear as teenagers. Still it has an impact, what the cool kids around us wear. As a teenager I started to wear the looser and straight cut jeans from the male section in the same moment that my best friend started to wear them. We both agreed they were more swag and soon it became a normal thing to do for some of the girls around us. These influences are trends and they are not explicit, but still easily traceable.

And yet there are less obvious influences. Things that we see every day, but we are not even aware we see them and we consider them normal and don't even think about them until a person from another culture comes and tells us how strange these things are for her. For me that was the case with the daily interaction with the passengers on the subway. Born and raised in Berlin, I was riding the subway frequently for all my life. And I thought it was totally normal to get on the train, sit or stand somewhere and look down or at some posters, sink deep into your own thoughts and get off at your station. But I was told that it was the weirdest thing for people from other places. They said it was so awkward how everyone on the subway put so much effort into not looking into each others eyes. I was shocked. Did we all really sit on the subway trying to not look at each other? I studied it and found that there was some silent common agreement between all passengers to mind your own business. I never consciously agreed to that, I had never even thought about that before. But now I know how much I am a child of this city that I live in.

There are studies about certain phenomenons that occur to influence the people around the phenomenon a lot. For example suicides. It shows that every suicide in a community raises the risk of another suicide for all the members that are in the same community of the committer. Same with obesity. If you are surrounded by obese people, you are more likely to be obese yourself.
Now we can take this knowledge and turn it into something positive for our own happiness and the happiness around us. In the beginning of our lives we have not so much choice of whom to surround ourselves with. Our parents are a given thing. But already in kindergarten we can pick our little best friend. We can chose who we want to play with. And later we can chose the school we want to go to or the afternoon activities. Do I want to hang out with the skaters after school or am I going to be a member of a poetry club? Do I want to sit next to the loud and funny Danish girl or am I going to sit next to the quiet Turkish boy who is always sticking his nose into his Manga? Do I go to a school that mostly privileged and rich children go to or do I go to a school where everyone has some street experience?
And later in life we see that it is everything! The friends that surround us are so much of our lives. Our family and our neighborhood is what we interact with daily. It is huge. So be wise and choose thoughtfully. If you feel like the people around you are making you laugh, inspiring you with new thoughts and ideas, bringing you up when you are down, criticizing you when you are ignorant, and make your life worth living: you found the right people. If the people around you don't know your true wishes, don't share your passions and try to keep you on the ground when you want to fly: think about finding new people to hang out with.

Also it can be so good to find inspiring people online. I am so happy about all these women sharing many contents about their interesting lives. It gives me a more clear idea of what I want to do and how I want to be. Take Chimamamanda Ngozi Adichie for example. She is a superhero for me and makes me feel really good.

And if I ever want to have a child, how cool would it be to be an outdoor mom like Morgan Brechler for example? She gives me hope cause she delivers another picture of momhood. The picture that I see around me is not inspiring, maybe my own mom who stayed active and worked and had many friends was a good picture too, but a lot of moms around me are homely sad milk machines that can't pay attention to anything else than their child for more than 5 seconds. Scary. I don't want to be like that. So I needed another picture of a mom that I can identify with.

Also it is really good remedy to your own gender stereotypes to also watch females represent the sports and hobbies that you are interested in. Especially when they for once are not sexualised, but actually doing something. How awesome is that? Check out the nice daily life of this prosurfer.

Or these crazy women on their skateboards in Sweden...

Ishtar X Tussilago from Maceo Frost on Vimeo.

So which people in your life are inspiring you and part of the happiness you live?